Since becoming involved with Street’s Hope several years ago, it has struck me over the years how little media coverage and societal concern seems to exist for adults exiting the sex industry. When I share Street’s Hope’s work with others, they often seem almost disappointed that our safe house does not work with minors. I feel like I have to make a concerted effort to create a case for why people should care about a drug-addicted prostitute, many with a criminal record. Perhaps, you’re reading this and thinking, why should I care?
Dr. Susan Dewey, professor of anthropology at University of Wyoming, has done extensive research based on the population Street’s Hope serves, published in several recent journal articles. I spoke with Dr. Dewey on the phone recently and she said that I could claim with utmost confidence that 100% of our population has experienced victimization in childhood, confirming what I believed to be true. She was clear about the complex inequalities an adult sex worker typically experiences. She stated, “Every single one of the women over the years have experienced some form of trauma in the home and in the community, as well.” She mentioned the disproportionate number of women of color that Street’s Hope sees, compared to Denver’s population at-large, and stated the importance of considering the numerous structural factors at play—poverty, racism, sexism—to name a few.
Every staff member and volunteer at Street’s Hope is trained to understand these multi-faceted obstacles a woman faces when she decides to enter our safe house. As our website states, “Our women typically experience a wide range of stressors such as: addiction, mental health issues, complex trauma, lack of education, lack of job history, and homelessness or precarious housing.” Not only does Dr. Dewey’s research support this, but also when you come to Street’s Hope—whether as a staff member, intern, or volunteer—and get to know these women, you cannot help but care about them.
To enter our program, the women must share a summary of their “life story” on the application. These stories are utterly heartbreaking and will forever be etched in my mind. There was one woman in particular that came to Street’s Hope through the court’s diversion program. She was a mother, a prostitute, a drug addict, homeless, and a victim of domestic violence. I remember sitting in our office, reviewing her file when I read the first sentence of her life story. To paraphrase, she wrote that her first memory was being taken away from her mom and being hungry.
If you’re privileged like me to have warm early memories of your childhood, how does that not make you want to weep? My challenge to you is to consider adult sex workers with empathy and compassion. Look beyond their sex work, drug use, and criminal rap sheet and consider what familial and societal factors contributed to their current life station. Then, consider how you can make a difference. We offer a myriad of ideas on how to get involved here. You truly can make a difference and I invite you to join our work. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
By Peg Theobald